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De Silva, Maureen (2009) Javanese indentured labourers in British North Borneo, 1914-1932. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis examines the historical realities of Javanese indentured labour in British North Borneo from 1914 to 1932. The empirical findings are interpreted in terms of the theoretical debate surrounding the indentured labour system, seen either as a 'new system of slavery', or as a particular variety of 'free labour'. By using primary and secondary sources, the study analyses the dynamics of the Javanese indentured labour system, i.e. from the negotiation between the colonial states for the procurement of Javanese labour, to the actual recruitment in Java, and working conditions in British North Borneo under civil contracts, which sanctioned criminal punishments. The thesis argues that the desperate need for labour, the prevailing conditions in Java, the regulated recruitment and immigration procedures, the characteristics of their indenture experience on British North Borneo enterprises, the post-indenture options available to the labourers, the inferior position of the Company government vis-a-vis the Dutch authorities, and the incessant disagreement between employers' representatives, which weakened their collective bargaining power, have all helped to depict Javanese indentured labour experience in British North Borneo not so much as slavery in a disguised form, but as a unique variety of 'free labour'. This thesis contributes to the wider history of colonial labour in three ways. Firstly, it provides an extensive and analytical review of Javanese indentured labour in British North Borneo during the period of imperialism and colonialism, which has not been attempted before. Secondly, it goes beyond the study of colonial and capitalist interests, moving towards an analysis of the experience of indenture by Javanese immigrants themselves. Thirdly, in contrast with previous studies depicting Javanese labourers as part of British North Borneo's local history, this thesis frames the story in terms of the wider debate surrounding the system, thus providing a modest contribution from British North Borneo to continuing deliberations on this controversial topic.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:10

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